Guest Host Blogger Matthew Sawh on how He Thinks Social Conservatives See Sarah Palin
America went to bed after watching Barack Obama accept his nomination. Instead of waking up to headlines heralding his nomination forty-five years after Dr. King's 'dream' speech, we saw breaking alerts that Alaska's Sarah Palin was Senator McCain's running mate. America asked Who? In time, the answers would encompass everything from hockey to cocky.
Of greater importance and, interest is another question: Why? Conservative pundit Peggy Noonan was caught arguing that McCain's campaign went for political bullshit about narratives. Moderates, particularly blue-state moderates see her as a reversion to the 2004 playbook and, her presence may play into that strategy, but, she's also more than that and, reductionists run the risk of underestimating her.
I have done the political analysis in this piece even though it is an exercise in some speculation, as the candid campaign staff interviews have not yet happened. This article is written from a social conservative's perspective. In order to perceive Palin's power, one needs to understand the party's past and its pressures.
For all of the psychoanalysis of the relationship between the two Bushes, little has been said about the parallel motivations between and behind George H.W. Bush’s selection of Dan Quayle and, John McCain’s vice, Sarah Palin.
TIME magazine proposed two reasons behind the Palin pick: McCain hoped that Palin, as a movement conservative, would energize or at least neutralize the G.O.P.'s right wing, which had always viewed McCain with suspicion. "A lot of the high-echelon members of this campaign are considered to be in the moderate camp," says Republican national chairman Clayton Yeutter, "so Vice President Palin serves the President as a very effective liaison to the more conservative segment of the party."
The most important consideration was McCain's peculiar need to demonstrate independence in his first "presidential" decision. Resentful of news stories that depicted him as George W. Bush's lapdog and a tool of savvy campaign "handlers," McCain decided that he would choose his running mate in secret and that his pick would be dramatic and unexpected.
This account dovetails with what most observers would agree to be true. The problem is that I changed the names in this piece originally penned in May 1991 (see TIME, Why Not the Best? 5/20/1991)
The Quayle and Palin nominations raise a continuing, confusing conservative quandary: What should be the role of social conservatives in the Republican Party?
Warner Huston of the right-leaning Human Events offers a good example of social conservatives sensing shunning: "The Brookses and Wills of this country are quite happy to have the votes of Sarah Palin's America, as long as they shut up about policy and don't have the gall to offer themselves up as possible future leaders. The Parkers and Frums of the conservative side would rather the Sarah Palins of the party continue to know their place and silently nod their heads as their acknowledged betters do the heavy lifting of "real" leading".
They feel that the GOP reliably asks them for votes which they deliver and, then in the clutch of governing, the party forgets about them.
They point to the Souter nomination, Senator Specter's 2004 comments about judicial appointments and, John Dilulio's experience heading the faith-based imitative which led him to critique "What you've got is everything, and I mean everything, being run by the political arm. It's the reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis. [He said] that the religious right and libertarians trust Mr. Rove to keep Bush 43 from behaving like Bush 41 and, moving too far to the center or, inching at all center-left". Dilulio later recanted his quote, but, it articulates this notion of the political team co-opting the social conservatives and their policy agenda.
Liberals might point to John Ashcroft as Attorney General or, the John Roberts nomination as contrary evidence. To moderates and liberals, the party has been too accepting of social conservatives. They, in turn, consider such cases as exceptions to the broader rule.
The frustrations social conservatives have with George W. Bush served to raise an already high-bar for Senator McCain. Even if Bush couldn't always deliver for them, he was seen as one of their own. In 1988, he served as liaison to social conservatives and, he was truly one of them. As a man who gave up drinking and, who said Christ was his favorite political philosopher because he 'changed my heart'.
In 2004, just 30% of conservatives believed that churches and other houses of worship should stay out of politics. Now, 50% of conservatives express this view. Pew's August poll, argued, "in short, the change of mind about the role of religious institutions in politics is most apparent among people who are most concerned about the very issues that churches and other houses of worship have focused on". In this context of disengaging social conservatives, Sarah Palin's selection makes a lot of sense as the logical extension of their support for George W. Bush.
Since the 2004 election's finding that moral values were the top issue, nearly every politician has found their religion on religiosity. This Pew poll shows a backlash against such blatant pandering and, suggests why Palin is such a base success. She has become a potent embodiment of Republican identity politics.
In short, there are the talkers like McCain, better are the true believers like George W. Bush and, then there are true taskmasters like Palin who serves as identity-politic symbols. It is the difference between McCain's parsed words on choice and, the deed of Palin's Minneapolis Trig embrace.
Why Palin Has Faced More Scrutiny than George W. Bush
Democrats look to educational background as a certification of gravitas and leadership potential. Walter Mondale in 1984 was the last Democratic nominee who hadn't attended Harvard or Yale.
By contrast, Republicans place their faith in those who serve in large, complex organizations. George W. Bush was ideal in this respect because he received an elite education and, he had significant private sector experience. Does anybody else remember the breathless accounts of the first MBA president ascending to power? Palin has the misfortune of being judged through the looking-glass of the Bush tenure. Needless to say, she won't be getting the doubt benefit here.
Republicans prefer those candidates with executive experience in hierarchical organizations with clearly defined roles such as the armed services (every president from 1952's Eisenhower until 1992's George Bush had served) or, the private sector. In their eyes, Palin is more qualified than Barack Obama and, Sarah Palin's two years in the constitutionally strong Alaska governorship are probably equal to the four or five years George W. Bush had in the Lone-Star state. But, that argument amounts to a tacky Texas-two-step for eager Republican consultants. Who wants to argue that Palin is as qualified as Bush was in 2000?
For too long, our plastic, consultant culture crafted the manufactured candidate. Sara Palin embraces her flaws as part of who she is, and, she makes no excuses for the dysfunction of her family. A dysfunction, which many know first-hand and, will only address in hushed tones once their polite company, has left.
Social conservatives see Sarah Palin and her daughter who chose to get married after being pregnant as a courageous act amidst a passive marriage culture. They serve as concrete examples of brokenness counterbalanced by compassion. Somewhere, the media and the left missed the compassion angle behind these tough, personal choices because they were not the convenient choices.
To these social conservatives, commitment to a hard path is courageous but, also, a matter of course, not one of choice.
The press would never have gone for Sarah Palin. She is the perfect opposite of the ironic detachment which marked and endeared the 2000 McCain campaign to the press.
Before one thinks that she is only popular with the base consider that CBS found on October 3rd that one of Palin's strengths has been her ability to connect with voters. Before the debate, 58 percent of uncommitted voters felt she shares their values; that rose to 73 percent after the debate. While 98 percent of voters considered Biden knowledgeable about important issues, the audience left the evening believing that she had survived a debate which she was expected to lose in terrific fashion.
What if Sarah Palin had made the cause of special education her signature priority? What if she had decided not to be an attack dog but, an altruistic activist? She could have singularly raised her profile on special-needs education and, in so-doing have co-opted the top issue in the 2000 campaign: education. At the same time, she could have helped McCain re-claim change mantel. Perhaps, that is what led McCain to pick her. Had Steve Schmidt not been a Karl Rove protégé, an expert in energizing the base, her political stock might better resemble Bank of America than Bear Stearns.
Even still, with some re-tooling and, re-fashioning, she may be the only one rising out of Phoenix's Ashes. Jim Nuzzo, a White House aide to the first President Bush told The Sunday Telegraph: "There's going to be a bloodbath. A lot of people are going to be excommunicated. David Brooks and David Frum and Peggy Noonan are dead people in the Republican Party. The litmus test will be: where did you stand on Palin?"
Politico's Ben Smith recently noted that Ms. Magazine editor, and Clinton aide, Elaine Lafferty, revealed that she's working for Palin citing her 'confidence' as 'a woman who knows exactly who she is'.
Before liberals get too comfortable in their contempt, they should remember that a woman who knows what she is stands more threatening than one who knows what she is about and, that harsher press and ratings occasioned another woman's first and, unsuccessful campaign to change Washington: Hillary Clinton.